The times they are a-changin’.
Bob Dylan sang those words nearly 60 years ago – only they could just as easily describe the offseason of the Red Deer Rebels.
For the first time in almost a decade, Brent Sutter will not be behind the Rebels bench with the puck drops in fall.
Sutter will be doing all his work behind the scenes, as owner, president and GM for the club in the 2021-22 WHL season. Exactly when it starts is still up in the air.
“We do know there needs to be some changes and there will be. As a general manager, I’m holding everybody accountable. Coaches to players and scouting staff, everybody has to be held accountable for good and bad,” Sutter said.
“We’re looking forward to next year getting here and having some normalcy and hopefully by October – we will have the same group coming back, at this point and time I would say it’s probably not going to be the case. There will be some changes.”
He said this week the biggest offseason priority is to find a head coach for the club. There is a long list of names – from the pro ranks all the way down – with the most pressing concern being how that individual can bring the group forward. He also hopes the individual will coach in Red Deer long-term.
“I want the right guy. I don’t care whether he has pro experience or not. I just want the right person that checks all the boxes that I want and we need to have for a head coach,” Sutter said, adding there is no timeline as to when they will hire the new coach.
“It’s a different animal coaching today than it was 10-15 years ago. Players are different, their mindsets are different and their attitudes are different. You got to make sure you have a coach in place that can get the best out of the players.”
While injuries played a big factor in the disappointing 24-game campaign in 2021 where they finished 4-15-4, Sutter said at some point the expectations need to be raised for the Rebels.
“You can’t continue to say you’re a young team. We were a young team last year, we were still a young team this year but next year we start being an older team and we have to start taking some strides. That’s where accountability comes in… we need to continue to improve and get better,” Sutter said.
“The overall expectations for having a team that can be a winning team… that’s a lot of work and we have a lot of work to do to make sure that’s in place.”
With Ethan Anders aging out and Byron Fancy being one of several players who could return for their overage season, the play of Chase Coward down the stretch was encouraging for the team in net.
Coward had 3.02 goals against average and 0.914 save percentage in four starts.
“Coward gave us a great chance, played four really good games for us. That makes a big difference, too,” Sutter said.
Ben King and Jayden Grubbe will assume spots as Red Deer’s top two centres next year. Kalan Lind, after an unexpected rookie season should take on a bigger role.
Carter Anderson, Jhett Larson, both of whom got their first taste of WHL action should also be back up front.
Overage forward Arshdeep Bains, one of the team’s leading scorers this year, needs to be a big contributor next season. Zak Smith and Fancy would be the other two overage players if they return.
The rest of the forward group could have as many as six 19-year-olds, including King, Ethan Rowland, Jace Isley, Jaxsen Wiebe, Keaton Sorensen and Dallon Melin.
On defence, Chase Leslie, Mason Ward, Blake Gustafson and Joel Sexsmith, are eligible to return as 19-year-olds. Rookies Hunter Mayo and Jace Weir will challenge for a spot on the blueline next season as well.
Christoffer Sedoff, 19, the Rebels Finnish import blueliner could also be in line to return in October, depending on the COVID-19 situation.
“He’d be our number one D-man. He’s a very valuable part of our team. Not having him in our lineup hurt us,” Sutter said.
Red Deer could also get a boost from Americans Gracyn Sawchyn and Aidan Willis, both selected in last year’s US Prospects Draft, along with defencemen Hunter Hady and Logan Wright.
The Rebels picked Sawchyn, 16, first overall last year in the prospects draft and he had 60 points in 47 games this season with Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota.
Sutter also has to fill the void left by Cam Moon, who was the team’s director of broadcasts and media, as well as play-by-play man for 19 seasons. He may also look at hiring a director of scouting.